The Library of Congress Website: Go Exploring with Primary Sources – Bookmark-It

The United States Library of Congress started with Thomas Jefferson’s personal library – 6,487 books. Now it’s an enormous collection of information on almost any topic a person wants to study. The library’s history page notes that “… it has become the largest repository of recorded knowledge  in the world and a symbol of the vital connection between knowledge and democracy.”

The resourceful staff at the Library have a finger on the cultural pulse of the country, so not only do the collections include books, papers, music, film, historical documents, and images, but now the library is digitizing its collection. As of February 2009 there were 15.3 million digitized items and anyone can access and download this information to a computer. According to the Library of Congress blog (subscribers welcomed), if all of those digitized items could be saved to CD-ROM disks, the pile would be a mile high, and that was more than a year ago.

The Library of Congress website is just the right place to get started with research for a class project or homework assignment. Start by going the section for kids and families, with features that are mostly, but not exclusively, useful to elementary and middle school students. Some of the searchable features in this section include: Continue reading

Check Out Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media, a not-for-profit advocacy organization designed for families, offers trustworthy information, media evaluations, and all sort of online tools to help  parents, kids, and educators become more sophisticated consumers. Think of Common Sense Media as an information portal rather than a mere website. Parents, no matter the age of children in the family, can consult the organization’s web  site for age appropriate information about movies, current media events, digital citizenship advice, and much more. A separate part of the website provides information for educators and schools. Common Sense Media is  non-partisan, and you can learn more at the Common Sense Media FAQ.

A few of the organizational core beliefs (others can be found at the website) include: Continue reading

Back-to-School Digital Reading Assignment, #1

Today’s Digital Parent Reading Assignment is an article, Rumors, Cyberbullying and Anonymity, appearing in a July 22, 2010, column by New York Times technology writer David Pogue. The article is his interview with Harvard Law Professor John Palfrey, one of the directors of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. In question and answer format, the interview ranges over some of the significant and critical technology issues that concern parents: rumors, cyberbullying, digital literacy (knowing what is credible), the opportunity to for anonymity, and the online social lives of pre-adolescents and teens. Professor Palfrey is a co-author of Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives (Amazon, Borders, Barnes and Noble, Powell’s). When he describes the way digital natives (our children) behave, Dr. Palfrey comments that he studies “… how young people use technology, how they relate to one another. And one of the big things is they’ve moved their social lives, by and large, online.”

Back-to-School Digital Reading Series for Parents

As summer 2010 moves swiftly along, we begin thinking, albeit incrementally, about back-to-school preparations.

In addition to traditional preparations — school supplies, lunch boxes, schedules, new shoes and clothes — we often use this time of year to update our digital lives, purchasing new computers, updating Internet access in our homes, and deciding whether or not to purchase cell phones other gadgets (MP3 players, iTouch, iPad) for our children.

Parents and teachers who have been through many back-to-school cycles know that some year when school begins, we unexpectedly become acquainted with new types of digital activities, discovering things that our children have known about all summer long. A few years ago Facebook arrived on the scene in just this way. While the school year does not always begin with digital surprises, experience tells us that, more often than not, a new digital activity or concern arrives on our radar screen — that’s the adult radar — at the beginning of the school year.

So to level the playing field between now and early September, I will post regular links to back-to-school parent “reading assignments.”

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Eight Questions to Ask When Media is Manipulated

Digital media manipulators use and modify information in any way necessary to support their views. The truth, context, intention, and even a person’s reputation are irrelevant, as Mrs. Shirley Sherrod discovered this week. What do children learn during these media spectacles?

While it’s tempting to focus on the unprincipled young-adult blogger who posted the edited, out-of-context video, the more compelling issue is how it’s increasingly acceptable to use digital media to embarrass and publicly humiliate others. Although the victim can be in the national news, more often it’s a child on the other side of a classroom. Thus the task of initiating conversations to help children understand ethical digital behavior takes on greater urgency.

These questions aim to help a parent get started. Continue reading

Taming the Technology Gadget Obsession at Home

Today with everyone connected all of the time, families need to think about scheduling disconnect time at home. Recently I read that, before cabinet meetings at the White House, the president requires attendees to leave phones and Blackberries in a basket by the door. Without interruptions from communication devices, people can concentrate on the conversation and on the important issues. Most importantly, cabinet members are able to listen to each other without distractions.

Can your dining room be gadget-free during meals?

Families, too, need uninterrupted communication time. Parents may want to develop home guidelines that mirror cabinet meeting expectations. The Pew Internet and American Life Project offers wide-ranging information setting sensible mobile phone and texting limits.

Family meals are the perfect time to disconnect phones and Blackberries. Increasingly, pediatricians and other family researchers believe that regular, all-family mealtimes provide children with a range of advantages. To improve communication and interaction, each person can turn off the ringer and deposit his or her phone in a location away from the table, preferably in another room. Dinner table conversation can proceed uninterrupted so family members will listen more carefully to one another. Make the dining room a gadget-free zone during meal times.

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The Center on Media and Child Health-Meet the Mediatrician – Bookmark It

Do you constantly ask questions about the influence of media on your children? The Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH) website at Boston Children’s Hospital is a reservoir of information for parents, teachers, pediatricians, and other professionals. Led by pediatrician Michael Rich, MD, MPH, a professor at Harvard Medical School, the mission of the organization is to “…empower both children and those who care for them to create and consume media in ways that optimize children’s health and development.”

The Center and its staff are especially concerned with helping parents become skilled at overseeing the media that children consume. The philosophy is not to banish media — that is impossible anyway — but to help adults and children learn how to manage it skillfully, as well as to understand direct and subliminal media messages. You can also visit the CMCH blog for regular and timely posts about children, adolescents, media and research.

In addition to the resources at the CMCH Dr. Rich writes a column, Ask the Mediatrician, answering questions about media and children. Anyone can submit a question, and an archive of past questions and answers is posted at the site. A button link to this feature is in the middle of the right-hand column.

One of My Favorite Quotes from Dr. Michael Rich

In America we make a distinction between education and entertainment. We learn important values and serious information in school, at church, and in the doctor’s office. But television, movies and other media are entertainment, relaxing “down time for our minds.” Unfortunately, the education/entertainment dichotomy is both artificial and false…Children spend more time using media than they spend at school, with parents, or in any other activity except for sleep. Media are teaching our children, and they are incorporating what they learn into their lives. We must pay more attention to the lessons they are learning.

“Every Moment is a Teachable Moment,” Pediatrics, July 1, 2001 (p.180)